Telemann, Bach, & Scarlatti
Da Camera with Carolyn Sampson
Kings Place. 20 September 2017
I reviewed Da Camera’s very first concert, in March 1999 at Hampstead’s Burgh House, noting that “Emma Murphy is a superb recorder player … she combines outstanding virtuosity with musical intelligence and sensitivity”, and that harpsichordist Steven Devine was (amongst other things) “clearly blessed with enviable technical skills”. In 2001, I commented on their “well-balanced programme, a friendly and informal stage manner, fine musicianship and superb playing” – a comment that they quoted in the programme for this Kings Place concert. In a later review, I praised Susanna Pell for producing a “wide range of tones and textures from her gamba, both in accompanying and in solo pieces”. Since those early days, they have each developed their own independent careers (and, indeed, families), but have now returned to the musical fray with a series of concerts and a new Telemann CD.
For this concert, they were joined by the distinguished soprano Carolyn Sampson who I also first reviewed in the 1990s when she was singing with Ex Cathedra, commenting on her “delightfully clear ringing tones”. It was an ideal combination of musical talent for a programme focused on the trio sonatas and solo cantatas of Telemann, together with an arranged Bach trio sonata and an Alessandro Scarlatti cantata. We heard three of Telemann’s trio sonatas from his 1740 Essercizii Musici and the Darmstadt Manuscript of 1720. The opening Sonata 5 in A minor (TWV42:a4) demonstrated the sometimes unpredictable inventiveness of Telemann’s writing, the jovial Vivace contrasting with the concluding kiss-chase Allegro with the bass viol, played high in its register, dueting with the recorder. For the Sonata in G minor, the bass viol was swapped for a treble viol, emphasizing the delicacy of the languid melodic line of the Largo set against the little 7-note bird-song-like flourishes from the recorder.
The treble viol also featured in Da Camera’s arrangement of Bach’s organ Trio Sonata (BWV530) written to develop independence of three melodic lines over two hands and feet. The little viol didn’t quite match the recorder in volume, and the bass line (a pedal solo in Bach’s original) was rather hidden below a rather full continuo realisation from the harpsichord. These sonatas are often borrowed by instrumental groups (and in return, I borrow some of their repertoire for performance on the organ), but I think they work better with three solo instruments, plus a subtle harpsichord continuo. But, had I not known Bach’s original so well, I’m sure I would have loved this interpretation.
In contrast to the Telemann instrumental sonatas, Steven Devine played one of his curious little 1733 solo keyboard Fantasies for Clavessin (in D minor, TWV33:2). Written in ABA format, the otherwise sprightly opening duet includes a couple of brief moments of tension created by a descending chromatic tetrachord. The B section is a dramatic recitative that concludes with a balancing rising chromatic passage.
Telemann’s 1726 cycle of church cantatas, Harmonischer Gottes-Dienst, are all scored for solo voice and continuo, together with an obbligato solo instrument. The format is consistent, with two arias enclosing a recitative. The two examples performed here by Carolyn Sampson were Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude and Hemmet den Eifer, verbannet die Rache. After some energetic gamba playing in the opening aria, Lauter Wonne, lauter Freude includes a lovely passage where Telemann plays around with the word lachenden (laughing) with repeated ha-ha-ha’s from singer and recorder. Scarlatti’s secular cantata Ardo è ver per te d’amore revelled in Neopolitan effervescence, the passionate text only slightly modified by the soothing sound of the recorder.
Carolyn Sampson’s voice was just as delightfully clear and ringing as it was 20 years ago, although her vibrato has become a little excessive for my tastes. But she gets lots of Brownie points for being able to execute a proper trill, rather than relying on vibrato as so many singers do. Her encore was the lovely Süsse, Stille from Handel’s Neun Deutsche Arien. As I wrote in my 2001 review of Da Camera – “what more could an audience ask for”.